Fear. I recognized that smell – a burnt odor sticking to my tongue and invading my nostrils, my eyes watered from the stinging smoke and my throat constricted around the cry I held back. I opened my fingers, the transport device resting on my palm. A single word and I opened the portal. I did not even bother setting the controls to the device. There was simply no time for control. The time to run was now.

I turned around before stepping through. Nobody followed, yet, but they were behind me. I knew this for a fact.

On the other side of the portal a different smell entirely bombarded my senses, a somewhat familiar one – one that I had known on another world in another life, from another space-time continuum. Horses, goats, shit, and fresh hay. I sneezed.

And my sneeze echoed in the small wooden building. A man in heavy wool clothing stood with a rake in his hands, his face frozen in contemplation with his eyebrows raised as if in concern. A young goat near him stood still, stuck in the motion of nudging his leg.

I shut off my transport device. Oh no, not again.

The man stood still, unblinking, as I waved my hand in front of his face. The young goat stood precariously balanced on two legs as it didn’t quite touch the man. The whole room vibrated with the silence of inactivity, even the odors grew stale and unchanging. I cursed at myself for being so careless. This was the last heist and I screwed up in the way only I can screw up.

I didn’t need to walk around this world to know what happened here. I didn’t need to step outside to notice the clouds didn’t shift through multiple shapes as they moved, and the ants on the ground were motionless. I already knew the birds in mid-chirp grasped tree branches that didn’t sway in the breeze. The sounds were a dull monotonous roar – every sound all at once like a clarinetist playing a single note that trills on forever.

Being who I am, I grabbed the leather saddle hanging on the wall and put it into my bad of holding. I apologized to the man, sheepishly – I don’t apologize to my victims often, unless I’m caught. He stood there and silently acknowledged my apology. In my mind he did, at any rate. I doubt he knew I was there and I imagine he’d be angry once he got out of the time warp I put him in. If I were him, I’d be more angry about the time warp than about the saddle, but I’m sure he didn’t know what a time warp is. And he’d shrug it off as a weird case of deja vu.

If he survived, that is.

So, here I am being chased by previous clients turned victims turned enemies, in a world stuck in a fold between time, and running like hell to undo what I caused. Perhaps I should try to explain this from the beginning?

To be continued…

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